HSK 4 in 8 Months of Mostly Free-Time Study

The HSK Challenge

In February 2015 I started a small Chinese learning experiment. After heaving read the famous books like Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner and Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis, I wanted to study Mandarin Chinese for about 8 months and take the HSK Level 4 exam in October here at the Asia-Orient-Institut of the University of Zurich.

Huangyaguan, section of the Great Wall near Tianjin

Huangyaguan, section of the Great Wall near Tianjin

As I’m still in the process of acquiring my Master’s degree in Physics here at ETH Zurich, it seemed necessary to stretch these magic “3 months” of full-time language learning to a slightly longer period. In the end, however, I managed to get a one month break from university and spend 4 weeks in China, fully concentrating on my studies of the Chinese language.

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Retreiving High-Quality IPA for Many Languages

English Transcription of “IPA” (Wikipedia)

When learning a new language, it usually is a big speedup to master the pronunciation quickly. However, just listening to native speakers often doesn’t provide enough input to really distinguish between a the sound of the new language. To get around this, looking at the transcription using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) provides a good cue.

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Learning Chinese Measure Words

In the beginning of my Chinese studies, I was always wondering, how to get around with all those measure words. At first, I didn’t even know, which measure words exist besides 个.

Then, after searching the web, I found several websites, which list the most common measure words along with their usual words they occur with. For each measure word, there is usually a description of the words it classifies, e. g. 条 for long objects.

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Creating Mnemonics from Chinese character components

For learning Chinese characters I found the most efficient way to memorise the writing is to find a mnemonic sentence, that includes all the components of the character.

For example, for 突 (suddenly) there is: “A 犬 dog suddenly charging into a 穴 hole, to catch a rabbit. Since the dog can’t fit all the way into the rabbit hole, its tail sticks out.” Great!

But coming up with a mnemonic is quite difficult, if you don’t know the meanings of each individual character. And of course, when starting to learn Chinese, this is the usual case.

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